Front pages of major newspapers on Friday mourned the death of former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, noting that it is a major “loss” for the country and the “end of an era”.
The 93-year-old veteran Bharatiya Janata Party leader was admitted to a hospital in New Delhi in June with a urinary tract infection, a lower respiratory tract infection and kidney-related ailments. But after nine weeks, his condition deteriorated on Wednesday and he was put on life support systems. He died on Thursday evening.
Condolences poured in from across the country and the world after his death. The Pakistan government extended its condolences and noted Vajpayee’s efforts to improve bilateral relations. The United States said Vajpayee would be remembered for his immense contribution to bolstering relations between the two countries.
Lakhs of people are expected to attend the former prime minister’s funeral at Rashtriya Smriti Sthal in New Delhi at 4 pm on Friday.
Here’s what newspapers said:
The Hindustan Times led with the headline “Politics loses its poetry”, a reference to the former prime minister’s love for the written word, and ran a huge picture of the BJP leader at his office in August 1987. The newspaper used several of his witty one-liners and statements to highlight that Vajpayee was a man of letters.
The death of the “last statesman” has united an “otherwise deeply divided political class in grief”, the daily said. It also highlighted that the former prime minister “walked the RSS tightrope” and his “legacy of economic reforms”.
“A nation’s loss” The Indian Express said in capital letters across its front page. The paper pointed out that Vajpayee was loved and respected across the political divide, and that the former prime minister gave the saffron party its “first light” – way back in 1998 and much before the “Modi wave”.
Its obituary noted how Vajpayee, a soft-spoken man, was sometimes described by liberal admirers as the right man in the wrong party. His defining characteristics, it said, were “his humanism, humour, his love for poetry, food and music. And above all, his pragmatism”.
The newspaper also highlighted his words from the Lok Sabha in 1996: “The game of power will go on..governments will come and go but this nation must remain.”
The Times of India’s headline was “PM, poet, statesman, gentleman”, encapsulating how the nation and Vajpayee’s political rivals saw him. The daily called him “a much-loved moderate who brought the right to centrestage” and a “saffron star”.
Highlighting the veteran leader’s skill with words, The Times of India carried a few lines from his poem Yaksha Prashan: “This cycle of being and not being shall continue as ever, we are and shall remain - this illusion too will be nurtured forever.”
Vajpayee’s lasting legacies, the newspaper said, were the nuclear tests he conducted in Rajasthan’s Pokhran in 1998, road construction, his approach to Indo-Pak relations and the privatisation of several PSUs.
The Hindu published a news report on the veteran BJP leader’s death and the political reactions with the headline “Vajpayee, BJP’s gentle colossus, fades away”. Vajpayee, the paper reminded readers, is the only non-Congress leader to complete a full term in office as prime minister.
The Telegraph, a vocal critic of the current BJP government and Prime Minister Narendra Modi, ran a headline referring to Vajpayee’s advice to Narendra Modi after communal riots in Gujarat in 2002. Modi was the chief minister at the time. In an oblique reprimand to Modi for his handling of the riots, Vajpayee had spoken of “rajdharma”, or the duty of rulers.
“But more than his oratorical talent or his natural flair for politics or his leadership skills, Vajpayee’s most remarkable quality was the ability to straddle contradictions,” the newspaper noted. “That made him an enduring enigma in Indian politics, with no one quite sure what Vajpayee exactly stood for and his opponents frequently resorting to the old cliché of ‘right man in the wrong party’ while describing him...”
Hindi dailies Hindustan and Dainik Jagaran noted Vajpayee’s contribution to transforming the BJP into a party with a pan-India appeal and voter base. “Anant Yatra par Atal [Atal (starts) on an unending journey]” was Hindustan’s headline.
Dainik Jagran’s headline read: “Rajniti ke Atal yug ka awsaan [The Atal era of Indian politics comes to an end]”. The paper noted, among other things, the former prime minister’s instrumental role in shaping India’s foreign policy.